Saturday, January 23, 2010

House For Sale, Ghost Stays

Martha Rixten had admired the old Catholic rectory house on Wolfe Island for a very long time before she bought it 30 years ago. She'd grown up on the island, a 15-minute free ferry ride from downtown Kingston, and dreamed one day of owning the home. From the first day she walked through the front door, the owner says, "I felt I wasn't alone here. I felt surrounded by a loving energy, I heard footsteps. When my son was a little boy, he would walk past the bathroom door and close it. I asked him why. He said, 'because there are three ladies in there.'" Ms. Rixten believes her 1901-era home is haunted. Occasionally, she'll hear what sounds like someone in work boots on the third floor, or a heavy object being dropped, when she knows she's alone. But that's not why she and husband Rod McDonald -- a fervent non-believer in the spirit world -- are selling (it's listed for $1.89-million). After operating Wolfe Manor for the past six years as a bed and breakfast, they feel it's time to take life easier, and plan to build a smaller home down the road. When Ms. Rixten bought the 8,000-square-foot home, it was a "shambles," she says. She spent the next quarter-century gutting the interior and rebuilding it to her high standard. She met Mr. Mc-Donald and they built a 1,600-sq.-ft. west wing to live in, and opened the adjacent old rectory as a seasonal B&B. Mr. McDonald says Wolfe Manor could continue as a B&B, but the possibilities are endless -- perhaps it could become an artist's studio, spa or family compound. "The island needs a seasonal high-quality restaurant. This place is fitted for a restaurant," Mr. McDonald says of the newer wing, pointing to the upgraded electrical service and roughed-in plumbing for additional toilets. Listing agent Scott Stren of Harvey Kalles Real Estate says Wolfe Manor would be a "turnkey operation" for anyone interested in taking over the bed and breakfast. It even has reservations for its spring opening. With the separate smaller home next to the rectory, Mr. Stren says, "it would also offer privacy to the parents of a large family or it could be an ideal corporate retreat." The rectory's main floor consists of one ensuite bedroom, open-concept eat-in kitchen and lounge with wood-burning fireplace, library and 14-foot ceilings. The other three ensuite guest suites on the second floor are reached by a refinished hardwood staircase. One suite consists of adjoining bedrooms. There are two additional fireplaces. The third floor is a large open room dominated by a billiard table that had to be lifted into place by crane. The table stays, Ms. Rixten insists.Stairs from this level lead up to a partially enclosed widow's walk, offering 360-degree views of the woodland and fields, Lake Ontario and Kingston beyond. The rectory features decks and verandahs on three sides, with gardens and woods. There are two garden fountains and a path that leads to the still-in-use Roman Catholic church next door. The eight-acre property is zoned commercial and annual taxes are $7,500. Nearby is a wind farm, income from which has helped to keep the island's property taxes down, says Mr. McDonald. Mr. Stren says there are more than 80 windmills on Wolfe Island. "They're close enough to see, but not close enough to hear," he points out. As you turn off the street at the edge of the island village of Marysville, a winding, tree-lined laneway leads to the main house. The laneway is one of Mr. McDonald's favourite features. "You turn the curve in the driveway and all of a sudden you see the house. What a sight!" The main house retains its original hardwood doors, floors and mouldings. Finishes from its days as a rectory remain, including decorative windows and a cross high above the main entranceway. "There are a lot of traditional aspects to the home," says Mr. Stren. "Updates keep to the period the house was built." The addition, reached from the rectory by way of an attached deck, has an open-concept main level and two-bedroom, two-bath second level. There is also a nearby carriage house. The island boasts many seasonal homes and the permanent population of 1,500 doubles during the summer. There are 40 operating farms and 70 home-based businesses. The Kingston ferry runs year-round and while it is shut down from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m., someone is always on call for emergencies. There is a privately run toll ferry to Cape Vincent, N.Y., during the summer. Ms. Rixten admits to mixed feelings about selling. "It's been a happy house, a place with a good feeling about it. There's a lot of love in the house." Guests who hear about Wolfe Manor's friendly ghosts often come hoping for an experience, she says. "Some say they feel something, but if you're not sensitive to these sorts of things, you're not going to feel anything here." Mr. McDonald insists he does not believe in haunted houses. Yet when attempts to reach a reporter by phone one clear, calm morning result in static and several dropped calls, he is asked whether he thinks the spirits might be having fun. Mr. McDonald forces a laugh. "Well ... maybe," he says.